Friday, October 05, 2007

House of Mirth



We were just coming back from our walk yesterday when I took this. My office is the room with the weird shaped windows. We used to have a propane tank painted to look like a submarine, but then it was taken away when we used up all the gas. I've procrastinated decorating this one. The wood pile got knocked around by a bear while we were away. We haven't seen further sign of the bear this trip. The weather has been dark and stormy which makes the yellow of the aspens all the more intense.

I finished Edith Wharton's "House of Mirth" last night. I'd read other books by her but not that one, or maybe I've just totally forgotten. It describes high society New York/Long Island life with great sardonic care, exact details described to portray a vacuous and luxurious lifestyle where everyone is watching everyone else for validation of importance and income. It follows one woman's spiral downward: she's unmarried at 29, still beautiful and in the groove of that lifestyle.

It's written with great care, and was hugely popular when published. Not being a fan of Henry James, I found the language a little ponderous. I imagine it's tricky to teach this book in college because there's a rich, pushy stereotype character who wants to marry her and the characterization is anything but pc. There's a sense that this would be the worst thing she could have done.
Actually I'd have preferred the ending if she HAD married him:
One way in which the rich have since changed: in the book Lily Bart wonders "Why are the rich always so fat?" and of course now it's "Why are the rich so thin?"

Those big houses built in the Industrialist age always intrigued me. I have about 20 pounds of magazines here documenting them, "Country Life in America".





They were helping people adjust to suburban life in a grand style, and feature articles on keeping chickens, (a society thing at the time), sleeping outdoors, the Sierra club, swimming pools, and my favorite, an article about a pet Condor! Sorry the image is blurry, but my camera doesn't do close up well.




I can lose myself in a fantasy world as I look through these magazines, but I never think of that life being like what Edith Wharton portrayed... but of course it was. The main reason those houses were so big was for the house guests and house parties which were de rigeur.

8 comments:

Namowal said...

I was puzzled by the caption on the magazine that read "The First Published Lumiere Photo of Live Water-Fowl", until U noticed it was dated 1909.
The pet condor looked rather cute. I wonder if they were treasured pets, or just another trophy item that was discarded when the novelty wore off?

Katy said...

House of Mirth is so fine...you're making me want to re-read it. She drew NY society with something sharper than a pen...a razor maybe.

Sally said...

Namowal, these magazines actually have a sincere dedication to nature. If you were to look one over, you'd see what I meant. Ernest Thompson Seton, famed naturalist of the time, wrote an article. It was sort of like a Sunset Magazine for the privileged, with great information on plants, animals and architecture.

Katy, what are you reading now? Definitely a razor at the keyboard in House of Mirth.

sally g said...

Your house is beautiful! Love your window.

linda said...

It's really fun to finally see a photo of your house. Did you and Jon design it? How new is it? It looks like you're really out there in the wilderness. Are there neighbors around? Can we see pictures of the inside?

Sally said...

Jon built the house around the time I met him. It's a nice house. We added on an office for him and a bedroom for Dinah about ten years ago. I'll post some pictures later. When the house was first built there were only two other houses on the big mesa. Now there are a lot more than that, but it still feels pretty remote and people keep to themselves. In fact it's a very cantankerous group of people.

The house behind us has been empty for two years.

Katy said...

Sally, I'm reading way too many blogs and comments about a Tennessee sex sting that plastered the names, addresses, and photos of men charged with disorderly conduct all over the papers and TV. The screaming large type, biased reporting, the big scoop, the family values crap. One man committed suicide. There were a few sane voices on the blogs, but a lot of righteous wrath, too, and I was hypnotized by it. I was also rather irate and researched organizations concerned about journalism ethics. It's a mean old world. Stupid, too. I feel a rant coming on. Enough. Somewhere in there I read Joan Didion's brief essay on Newport(RI), Seacoast of Despair. Yes to Joan.

Sally said...

Katy, I find stings really uncomfortable. Once I was supposed to serve jury duty on a Hollywood sex sting involving Mexicans and police dressed as hookers. Didn't these cops have more important stuff to do? I didn't get picked for the jury.

I'd never heard of the Man Cave.